Tucson Citizen
Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Most of Mexico pays scant attention to Cinco de Mayo

The Arizona Republic Mexico City Bureau

PUEBLA, Mexico - Cinco de Mayo has evolved into the most curious of fiestas.

It's honored with fervor here in Puebla, where an undermanned Mexican army defeated the mighty French on May 5, 1862.

But the day is a minor event in the rest of Mexico, even as its popularity grows in the United States, especially in cities with heavy Hispanic influences, including Tucson.

Today's fiesta has long been a subject of curiosity. Recognition of Cinco de Mayo throughout the rest of Mexico has been a footnote to the celebration of the 16th of September, Mexico's liberation from Spain in 1821.

That's especially true because all government workers are given the day off, just as they are on May 1, Mexico's Labor Day.

"There are parades in Mexico City for Labor Day but not for Cinco de Mayo," said Marta Lopez, a supervisor in Mexico's Treasury Department.

"It's not like people don't know the greatness of the event. Schoolchildren study the Battle of Puebla during their third- or fourth-grade years and then it is reaffirmed in secondary school. But there is not the reaction to it like you would expect in the country outside of Puebla."

Puebla historian Blanca Lara Tenorio said she was stunned while living in Cuernavaca, in the neighboring state of Morelos, a few years ago that there wasn't a parade on Cinco de Mayo and hardly any mention of the holiday by co-workers.

Now that Lara is back home and working at the battlefield site on the magnolia-filled mesa that dissects this bustling textile city of 4 million, it has rekindled her view of the battle's significance.

As the many signs in the groves below the ruins of Fort Guadalupe attest, this area is a cathedral to the Mexican patria, love of country.

"Even though we eventually lost the war, we won this battle and it came at a desperate time in this nation's history. That's why it is still so popular with so many people," Lara said.

Outside Lara's office window, a sign notes that 100 Mexican soldiers died near that spot, defending the nation against the French.

Near her office, a dark room serves as an archive for Mexican and Spanish judicial documents dating to 1574.

"Puebla has a variety of events in the month leading up to Cinco de Mayo," Lara said. "But the highlight is the day itself. The parades are huge and virtually all the schoolchildren from throughout Puebla and neighboring states participate."

Along the tree-lined walkway of Cinco de Mayo Avenue in downtown Puebla, lifetime resident Salvador Pozos Alvarez says the story of the battle resonates.

He pointed to the nearby main municipal building.

"You can see the French influence in a lot of our buildings," Pozos says. "But it's the battle that's the main thing in the heart of Poblanos (the people of Puebla) and all Mexicans."